Search Party Season 4 (HBO Max)
Written by Sarah-Violet Bliss & Charles Rogers, Christina Lee, Emily Heller, Jordan Firstman, Matt Kriete & Andrew Pierce Fleming, and Starlee Kine
Directed by Sarah-Violet Bliss & Charles Rogers, John Lee, and Alia Shawkat
Every season I ask myself, “Where could this show go next.” When I step back and look at the four seasons of Search Party that have been made, it is quite hilarious and stunning how its creators can morph and shift the narrative into something surprising. Sarah-Violet Bliss & Charles Rogers continue to explore, ruminate, skewer, and satirize Millennials. It’s clear they are a part of a particular gentrifying class in New York City, but they are honest about their peers’ neuroses and incredibly harmful psyches. These characters exist in a world where it’s stunningly easy to compromise your values; you’re encouraged to do so. And anytime someone tries to escape, they are inevitably roped right back in.
This season opens with some time passing since the season three finale. Dory (Alia Shawkat) has been kidnapped by the Twink (Cole Escola), who crashed the wedding from last season. Her friends have been convinced she ran off after her acquittal from the murder trial. Drew (John Reynolds) has relocated to Merry Merry Land, a knock off of Disney World. This place’s wholesomeness seems to have healed him, and he is even dating one of the princesses. Portia (Meredith Hagner) is still unsure of herself and has become aware there is a movie being made about Dory and the events surrounding season one. Finally, Elliott (John Early) has completely sold out to RNN (Republican News Network). He has a line of handguns being made that he’s endorsed and renounces his homosexuality on television. Season four maintains the dark comedy of the previous entries and goes even darker in some regard.
Shawkat continues to give the best performances of her career so far. Physically she has a shaved head (forced upon her by the Twink), and there’s a disconnect in the way she moves. She cowers continuously, compared to last season, where she played the seductress, using her sexuality to manipulate. By the end of season four, she is genderless in many ways. She walks with a gait that could never be considered “feminine” by American cultural standards. I think this is important because it notes that Dory has played several roles as she’s dug herself deeper into the predicaments in her life. Now she’s reached a point, having convinced the public of her innocence while feeling the enormity of her guilt, that she is no one. The Twink takes full advantage of this and further breaks Dory down throughout the season.
Cole Escola is another magnificent standout this season. I’ve been a big fan of his since discovering him in John Early’s episode of The Comedians on Netflix. Since then, I’ve followed Escola on social media and loved seeing them in a recurring role in At Home with Amy Sedaris, as well as listening to them on the new National Lampoon Show hosted on Spotify. They have this dark sense of humor that clicks with my own sensibilities that can sometimes go off the rails. Here, the showrunners have focused on that darkness and given us a complicated figure in The Twink. We never get scenes of heavy exposition explaining his backstory, but we get enough fragments that the audience can piece it together through the season. I hope he returns if a season five is made because I think there is more to explore with this character.
Several guest-stars show up for an episode or two. Ann Dowd plays a nosey neighborhood, Griffin Dunne plays the owner of a Little Debbie’s analog called Lil Sticky’s, and Susan Sarandon shows up in the last quarter of the season and steals the show. She and The Twink have some great scenes together that had me clamoring for more. There’s also a fantastic spotlight episode that interrupts everything to focus on Chantal Witherbottom (Clare McNulty), the young woman whose disappearance spurred on that original search party. She’s just gotten out of prison after she was used in an embezzlement scheme, and her family has gone from being wealthy to living out of a tiny apartment in Brooklyn.
Search Party always finds a way to make its seasons feel like a conclusion, albeit with nightmarish endings. This could be the last season, or there could be a whole other batch of episodes exploring the seeds planted at the end of this one. I will always support more but understand if they want to leave things here. Dory is a shell of a person now, and I don’t know where they would take her next. I have total confidence the writers have ideas of directions they want to go, and I hope we get to see them.